This article is part of our 2020 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we recognize the overlooked gems of the year — that is the movies you missed in 2020.
An emerging narrative around films in 2020 is that with many major releases pushed back, there was a void formed in the filmgoing landscape. Though we’re still left longing for heavy-hitters like No Time To Die and Dune, the fact is that there was a hell of a lot of good movies released this year. Sure, many of them didn’t get theatrical releases. And yes, keeping track of what’s available on every streaming service requires more spreadsheets than being a bookie. But there are some incredible 2020 films to be found if you’re willing to dig a little deeper than what’s on the marquee at your nearest multiplex.
Ordinarily, we limit this list to movies that made less than a million bucks at the box office. As you can imagine, that’s a little harder to do this year. So, we changed up the rules a bit. The aim was to select films with less than ten-thousands views on Letterboxd, which resulted in some surprising cuts and some illuminating discoveries. At the end of the day, regardless of how much money these films recouped, they’re all movies that could use a little extra love and attention.
20. Blood Quantum
Zombies are a staple in the horror genre and, to be frank, it often feels as though they’ve been done to death. Or, done to un-death as it were. But then a movie like Blood Quantum comes along: a film with a fresh take on the genre and a penchant for gore to back up its ideas. Jeff Barnaby‘s film centers on a reserve where the dead are coming back to life, and the Indigenous residents are immune to the virus. The white settlers of the land, on the other hand, are easily being picked off and reanimated as flesh-hungry monsters who will brutally consume anything that stands before them. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. This is a film with bite in more ways than one –it’s a bloody splatter-fest and a rather clever take on historical and current trauma. (Anna Swanson)
19. Saint Frances
In Saint Frances, one of the most sincere independent movies of the year, a woman takes a job as a nanny after having an abortion. She soon connects with the six-year-old Frances and begins to realize she is capable of doing that which she never imagined she could: caring for a child. Star Kelly O’Sullivan also wrote the screenplay for the film, which is as delightfully funny as it is emotional. As independent films do so well, this one brings to life a woman who is far from perfect and therefore wildly entertaining. Saint Frances highlights how none of us really have it all figured out, and we never will, but the experiences life puts us through help us get where we need to be. (Emily Kubincanek)
Learn the name Cooper Raiff now, because if Shithouse, the actor/writer/director’s debut feature, is any indication, we’re gonna be seeing a lot more from him in the future. The awkward-as-all-hell college rom-com stars Raiff and Dylan Gelula as a pair of undergrads who stumble into each other’s lives at a party one night. Raiff’s Alex is lonely and isolated; Gelula’s Maggie isn’t necessarily enjoying the college experience more, but she’s trying. The result is a dynamic that’s cringy in the best way possible — this film is a brutally honest take on characters woefully entrenched in the so-called best years of their lives. Shithouse is vibrantly real and it wears its heart on its sleeve. All the more reason to fall in love with it. (Anna Swanson)
17. My Mexican Bretzel
The problem is this: My Mexican Bretzel is on Amazon Prime, it has a peerless runtime of 74 minutes, and you still haven’t seen it. Nuria Giménez Lorang’s dreamy mid-century modern travelogue documentary is waiting to lure you in with its eccentricities. Like how, in its experimental silence, it’s more akin to cozying up and reading a psychologically thrilling novel than watching a film — a novel like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, in which a woman is shaken loose from the gendered oppression of her time and born into a new mindset. Or, like how the many narrative gaps always leave room to question what exactly is going on. Who are we looking at? What story is being told? Where does it come from? They’re questions Lorang will leave you ruminating on in until the final chilling moments. (Luke Hicks)
16. Jessica Forever
You’ve seen dystopian films, but you haven’t seen a dystopian film like this before. Jessica Forever centers on a violent world and a collection of outcasts led by Jessica (Aomi Muyock). She has a found family of imposing men with dark pasts and histories of brutality. She helps reform them and offers them a home, with comfort and protection, a reprieve from all that they’ve known prior. Their family is unusual, but they’re a family that finds forgiveness and love at the heart. The film eschews interest in the exact mechanics of how society crumbles and instead focuses on human relationships, the fraught and complicated trappings of masculinity, and the beautiful beacon of hope that forms when one cares for another. (Anna Swanson)